Civics Education Resource Site

Election 2020 Toolkit

This year brings an opportunity to use the elections to engage students in the proven practices of civic education outlined in 6-12th grade civics course mandates. has created a tool kit to provide resources and lesson plans to support this important work.

Why Engage Students in Voting and Elections?

  • The Teaching for Democracy Alliance has materials to equip teachers and administrators to engage students in elections and voting in a productive and safe way.
  • Should School Teach Students to Vote? YES! by Diana Hess explains how teachers can impact young people's involvement in elections by not only teaching about elections but also about how to register to vote and how to go about voting.

Why Vote?

  • In To Vote or Not to Vote from PBS Learning Media students will view three short films that explore the importance of voting. Each film/activity examines the topic from a different, thought-provoking perspective.
  • The C3 Inquiry Voting has students investigate the issues behind youth voting and evaluate their interests to determine whether or not they will vote in the next election.
  • How Voters Decide from Crash Course Government and Politics explores the motivations for voting.

Questions About Voting in Illinois

Who carries out elections in the state of Illinois?

Elections are administered locally by the state’s 108 election authorities. These are the county clerks in 101 counties, one county election commissions and 6 municipal election commissions. These local authorities are a very important part of Illinois’ election process. As part of their many responsibilities they handle local voter registration programs, train election judges, select polling places, get ballots printed, oversee Election Day activities, and supervise the vote count at the local level.

Source: Illinois State Board of Elections

Can I be an election judge?

Registered voters can apply to be an election judge with their local election authority. Compensation differs by region.

In addition, Illinois high school students (ILCS 5/13-4) may serve as election judges. Qualifications include:

  • Be a U.S. citizen by the time of the election
  • Be a high school junior or senior in good standing enrolled in a public or private secondary school
  • Maintain at least a 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale
  • Successfully complete an election judge training course conducted by the Clerk's office
  • Have written approval by your high school principal
  • Have written approval from a parent or legal guardian

Applications for the Illinois Student Judge Program can be secured through your local election authority.

What are the requirements to be able to register to vote in the state of Illinois?

To be eligible to register to vote in the state of Illinois:

  • You must be a United States Citizen
  • You must be 17 years old on or before the date of the Primary Election and turn 18 on or before the date of the General or Consolidated Election
  • You must live in your election precinct at least 30 days prior to Election Day
  • You must not be serving a sentence of confinement in any penal institution as a result of a conviction
  • You may not claim the right to vote anywhere else

Source: Illinois State Board of Elections

How do new voters register to vote?

New voters can register online, with a mail in application or in person.

Individuals my also register to vote in person with their local election authorities or with an Illinois Deputy Registrar. Deputy registrars can be found at/include:

  • County Clerk’s Office
  • City and Village Offices
  • Township Offices
  • Precinct Captains
  • Schools
  • Public Libraries
  • Military Recruitment Offices
  • Some Labor Groups
  • Some Civic Groups (League of Women Voters)
  • Some Corporations

Source: Illinois State Board of Elections

What documents do I need to register to vote?

If you do not have a driver’s license, State Identification Card or social security number, you must provide (i) a copy of a current and valid photo identification, or (ii) a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the name and address of the voter.

If you do not provide the information required above, then you will be required to provide election officials with either (i) or (ii) described above the first time you vote at a voting place or by absentee ballot.

Source: Illinois State Board of Elections

I think I might already be registered. How can I be sure?

If you are not sure if you are already registered to vote, you may use the Illinois State Board of Elections Voter Registration Status Portal to check your status.

Source: Illinois State Board of Elections

Under what circumstances would I have to re-register in Illinois?

  • If you move.
  • If you change your name.
  • If you have not voted for several election cycles, your local election authorities may have assumed you moved. Be sure to check you status to make sure you are still registered.

Source: Illinois State Board of Elections

When do voters need to (and not need to) show ID in Illinois?

No ID is needed when:

  • The voter is already registered at the voter’s current address and is voting in the correct precinct.
  • Signature appears to match the voter signature on file.
  • Election Judges do not challenge the person’s right to vote.

One (1) Form of ID with voter’s current address is needed when:

  • Election Judges challenge the person’s right to vote.
  • Voter submitted mail-in registration form that did not have Illinois identification/driver’s license number or Social Security number.

Two (2) Forms of ID are needed when:

  • The voter is registering in person after the voter registration deadline, including in the voter's home precinct on Election Day.
  • The voter is filing an address change in person after the voter registration deadline, including in the voter's home precinct on Election Day. One of these two IDs must list the voter’s current address.

What are acceptable forms of ID?

  • Passport or Military ID
  • Driver's License or State ID card
  • College/University/School/Work ID
  • Vehicle registration card
  • Lease, mortgage or deed to home
  • Credit or debit card
  • Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid card
  • Insurance card
  • Civic, union or professional membership card
  • LINK/Public Aid/Department of Human Services card
  • Illinois FOID card
  • First class mail addressed to voter. This includes: Bill, Transcript or Report Card from School, Bank Statement, Pay Stub or Pension Statement, Utility, Medical or Insurance Bill, Official mail from any government agency

Source: Cook County Clerk’s Office

When are registration deadlines?

  • Voter Registration Deadline in person is Tuesday, October 6th, 2020
  • Online Voter Registration Deadline is Sunday, October 16th,2020
  • Voter Registration Forms by sent by mail must be postmarked no later than Tuesday, October 6th

Source: Rock the Vote

Oops! I missed the registration deadlines. Can I still register to vote?

Illinois has a “grace period” in which individuals can register to vote thru election day. Guidelines limit when and where grace period registrants can vote — during the 27 day grace period, voters must register and vote in person at one of their local election authorities designated grace period locations. Individuals wishing to vote during the grace period must bring two pieces of identification to register, one with a current address. Grace period registrants must immediately cast their ballot after registering to vote.

Source: McLean County

On Election Day, voters who are not registered to vote can register and vote at their home precinct only. Any voter who is not registered and needs to know where to go to register and vote on Election Day can utilize the state’s Polling Place LookUp Tool to find their home precinct. Voters planning on registering to vote or updating their address on Election Day must bring two pieces of identification to register, one with a current address.

Source: Illinois State Board of Elections

I know someone serving overseas in the military. What about U.S. Citizens living overseas. Can they still register to vote?

There are several programs that allow those residing out of the country to register and vote on election day. You can find an overview of these programs on the Illinois State Board of Elections website.

Can I become a Deputy Registrar and register people to vote?

The following may make application to their election authority to become deputy registrars:

  • Chief librarian or their designee
  • Principal or their designee of a high school, elementary school or vocational school
  • President or their designee of a university, college, community college, academy or other institution of learning
  • Officials or their designees of bona fide labor organizations
  • Officials or their designees of bona fide state civic organizations as certified by the State Board of Elections
  • The Director of Healthcare and Family Services or their designated employees
  • Illinois Department of Employment Security Director or their designated employees
  • President of any corporation as defined by the Business Corporation Act of 1983 or their designated employees

Source: Illinois State Board of Elections Deputy Registrar Guidelines

When can I vote?

  • September 24, early in-person voting places will be open during the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on weekdays and 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Check with your local election authority for sites.
  • Election Day is November 3rd, 2020. Illinois polling places are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Due to Covid-19, you can now apply to vote by mail at your local Election Authority. This gives your election authority more time to handle the expected increase in vote by mail ballot applications for this election. Ballots will not be sent out to voters before September 24.

Source: League of Women Voters - Illinois

Can you vote if you have a felony conviction in Illinois?

The only people in Illinois who cannot vote because of their criminal record are people who:

  • Are in prison or jail serving a sentence because of being convicted of any crime
  • Are in an Adult Transition Center
  • Are on furlough from prison or jail
  • Are on work-release from prison or jail

You should be able to register and vote if you completed your sentence for a felony crime, if you are on probation or parole, if you have been arrested or charged with a crime but have NOT been convicted, or if you are in jail before your trial.

Source: 866 Our Vote

What if a person needs accommodations on election day due to a disability?

Polling places are required to be accessible to people with disabilities, but some polling places may be granted an exemption. If a polling place has been granted an exemption, you may contact your local election office ahead of time to request “curbside voting” so that you can vote from your vehicle.

Source: 866 Our Vote

What if a person has a disability or is not comfortable voting in English and needs someone’s help in order to vote. Can they get assistance at the polls?

Any voter who needs help voting has the right to get help, as long as the voter makes the choices on the ballot and the person helping just marks the choices made by the voter. A voter may choose anyone to assist them other than their employer or union representative. In many places, polling places are required to provide help in Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, and other languages.

Source: 866 Our Vote

Where can I find out more about Illinois youth’s voting habits and other indicators of civic health?

Where can my students research more about how our state governs elections and makes participation accessible and equitable?


Senate Bill 1863 made Nov. 3, 2020, a legal holiday in the state of Illinois, applying to all public schools, and state and local government offices across the state. The holiday declaration is only for 2020 in order to enhance opportunities to vote and promote voter safety during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.


The Citizen Advocacy Center (CAC) recently hosted a webinar on Free and Fair Elections in Illinois During the Pandemic that provided an overview of election laws, procedures, and issues related to COVID-19. This one hour webinar hosted by the CAC high school interns can be used in the classroom to inform students about ballot access issues in the November elections.

Understanding the Nomination Process

  • A brief video from Why Tuesday? illustrates how the Iowa Caucuses work.
  • PBS Learning Media has a lesson that explores the history of the Iowa Caucus and the benefits of being “first in the nation.”
  • PBS NewsHour Extra has a lesson called “What are Primaries and Caucuses?
  • The Bill of Rights Institute has resources for “The Iowa Caucus and Beyond.”
  • Civics 101 has an episode devoted to explaining primaries and caucuses.
  • FiveThirtyEight launched a special series called The Primary Project. Its first episode features the 1968 Convention in Chicago and its impact on current events.
  • Stranglehold from New Hampshire Public Radio explores the history, personalities, and challenges of being the site of the first in the nation primary election.
  • Caucus Land from Iowa Public Radio explores, “Where the road to the White House begins!”
  • The 2/17 #SSCHAT shared resources around Teaching the 2020 Primaries.
  • The Electoral Process from iCivics takes a peek into the electoral process from party primaries to the general election.
  • How the World Votes: The Iowa Caucuses and Voter Representation by Facing History and Ourselves provides teaching ideas to help students understand how the Iowa caucuses work, prompts them to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of voting in person at a caucus, and invites them to explore the question of whether Iowa should be the first state to vote in the presidential primary season.

Understanding the General Election & Electoral College

Understanding Initiatives and Referendums

  • Illinois Civics will host a free webinar on May 12th, Does the Progressive Tax “Add Up” for Illinois, that will examine the referendum on the Illinois Fair Tax, an amendment to the Illinois Constitution that would change the state income tax system from a flat tax to a graduated income tax.
  • Got Ballot from iCivics takes students to the voting booth and explains what they might see on a typical ballot. Students will discover how voters have the opportunity to initiate change in state and local government.
  • Becoming an Informed Voter: Creating Initiatives from the Center for Civic Education focuses on a voter’s need to be fully informed prior to casting a vote on Election Day and how to acquire the necessary information.
  • Ballot Initiatives: Direct Democracy vs. Representative Democracy from the Citizen Advocacy Center poses the question, “How much of a direct say should citizens have in government decisions?”

Information Literacy Related to Elections

  • Illinois Civics has a lesson around Scientific vs Unscientific Polls.
  • Explore how a handful of educators are touting the benefits of using math to teach civics, and vice versa, in this Education Week article, Math, The Most Powerful Civics Lesson You’ve Ever Had.
  • The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) created a 2020 Election Center to track youth voter registration rates, their views on the candidates, and involvement in the political process.
  • FiveThirtyEight has tracking polls in contested congressional races and the race for the White House.
  • PBS Learning Media has a lesson called Poll Dance that introduces students to important aspects of valid polling.
  • PBS News Hour's interactive Decoding Media Bias Lesson Plan teaches students how to critically analyze media sources on the government and politics.
  • The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) has curated election resources to help students understand how to access, analyze, evaluate, create and act using all forms of media for full participation in a 21st-century democracy.
  • Can Polls be Trusted? from C3 Teachers has students evaluate what polls are, how they are used, and how we are growing more confused by them.
  • Destination White House from the National Constitution Center takes an in-depth look at presidential elections, specifically the role of television commercials in campaigning.
  • You Be the Expert from Growing Voters has students use free online tools to ask their own questions and survey public opinion.

Researching Candidates

  • In the Illinois Civics lesson, Let’s Party: Understanding the Role of Political Parties, students explore the role of political parties and research various parties platforms.
  • The League of Women Voters of Illinois has an overview of the election calendar for Illinois and links to nonpartisan voter guides.
  • Project Vote Smart’s Vote Easy platform compares candidates in both presidential and congressional races by their positions on key issues.
  • Looking for some online quizzes to match your students with candidates? Try iSideWith or
  • Ballotpedia has resources for students to see who is on the ballot in their region.
  • Issues Voting from C3 Teachers leads students through an investigation of policy voting, i.e. aligning their own beliefs with policies of political parties and candidates.
  • Political Parties from C3 Teachers leads students through an investigation of political issues and political parties. Students consider their own political ideology as a lens for learning about the extent to which political parties address international and domestic issues.
  • iCivics has a Candidate Report Card lesson. Students select the issues and qualities they care about, then research candidates running for the office to determine how the candidates rate, as they learn about the campaigns.
  • The Ballot and Questions from The Center for Civic Education focuses on a voter’s need to be fully informed prior to casting a vote on Election Day, and how to acquire the necessary information.
  • Project Vote Smart Vote Easy platform allows students to click on a presidential or congressional candidate’s sign to see their positions on key issues OR compare their issue positions to those of all the candidates.
  • The 2020 Candidate Bio Election Resource from iCivics can be used in a variety of ways in your classroom: a reference document, a starting point for deeper research, a discussion starter, and beyond. You will find a page of classroom discussion and activity ideas, candidate cards, and a table that compares seven different elements of each candidate and his or her campaign.

Simulation Resources

  • There are Iowa Caucus classroom simulations from the Iowa Secretary of State, one for Democrats and another for Republicans.
  • It will take 270 electoral votes to win the 2020 presidential election. 270 to Win allows students to choose states on an interactive map to create their own 2020 election forecast. There are also maps related to congressional and state legislative elections.
  • iCivics has created a three day Mock Election simulation. Students explain the steps taken from party formation to national election and act out the campaigning and voting process by simulating a real election in their own classroom.
  • The iCivics online game Cast Your Vote has students discover what it takes to become an informed voter — from knowing where you stand on important issues to uncovering what you need to know about candidates.
  • The iCivics online game Win The White House challenges students to build a presidential campaign by building arguments to support timely issues, strategically raise funds to support your campaign, keeping campaign momentum through targeted media campaigns and personal appearances, and polling local voters to see what issues resonate.

Current and Societal Issue Discussion Resources

  • Illinois Civics has a Voting at 16 lesson in which students engage in a Structured Academic controversy to deliberate lowering the voting age.
  • CSPAN classroom's Deliberations website provides in-depth lessons designed to engage students in debate about current issues, including topics related to elections.
  • Above the Noise, a YouTube series from KQED for teens, cuts through the hype and dives deep into the research behind the issues affecting their daily lives. Every other Wednesday, the series investigates controversial subject matter to help young viewers draw informed conclusions while inspiring media literacy and civic engagement.
  • has Lesson Plans: 2020 Election and Beyond that tackles issues like the electoral college and traces political issues throughout history.
  • The Student Government Affairs program has research links and critical questions for a plethora of issues that will take center stage in the 2020 election season.
  • AllSides for Schools has materials for student deliberations on topics that will be center stage in the 2020 election.
  • Debating the Electoral College is a lesson from KQED Learning that has students deliberate if it is time to reform the process of selecting the president.
  • Appraising the Electoral College from the Bill of Rights Institute examines how the Electoral College functions and why the Framers thought it was a good idea. Student will view two videos debating whether the Electoral College works for the greater good, and explore historical election result maps.

The Great Debates website from the Museum of Broadcast Communications has ready to go curriculum that address topics including:

  • Presidential Elections and Neutrality of the Media
  • Political Candidates, Public Opinion and Social Media
  • Presidential Campaigns:  The Influence of 150 Years of Media
  • Presidential Debates, Leadership, and the COVID-19 Crisis
  • Debates and Late Night TV

Service Learning Through Informed Action

  • In Growing Voters: 18 Ways Youth Under 18 Can Contribute to Elections, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) explores authentic actions young people can engage in to participate in the 2020 elections.
  • Mikva Challenge curated five lessons to help students take Elections to Action.
  • KQED Let’s Talk About Election 2020 has students create and publish audio or video commentaries for a national audience, addressing real topics from immigration to climate change to the COVID-19 pandemic and more.
  • Know Your Vote, Know Your Issues from PBS Learning Media has students examine problems surrounding health care costs, funding higher education, and preserving social security. Then, students look at how the current presidential candidates are proposing to address these issues and formulate a short media presentation using Flipgrid or some other media presentation tool to endorse one candidate.
  • Beyond the Ballot from Generation Citizen equips students to choose an issue to address in their community and seek out the appropriate elected official to address it.
  • The Digital Civics Toolkit is a collection of resources for educators to support youth to explore, recognize, and take seriously the civic potentials of digital life.
  • The Chicago Public Schools Social Science and Civic Engagement Department have create an independent digital civic action project around the question, How do we get people to vote?
  • The Growing Voters lesson plan Civics in the Community: Lemonade Stand has middle school students create "Why Vote" pamphlets to show the importance of active participation in the democratic process. Students can hand it out in public at a school event, at a shopping center, or a sporting event.
  • The Growing Voters lesson plan Kid-to-Kid has students learn by teaching. They develop and make a presentation on elections to younger grades of students in their schools or share online.
  • In Growing Voters' Electoral College Activity, students will be able to both learn and apply their understanding of the role and function of this element of our electoral system by creating infographics to inform others.
  • Illinois Voting 101 from is a lesson plan that takes students through a digital breakout room to learn about voting in Illinois and then take informed action to share important information with their community through the creation of PSAs.
  • With the help of their Student Advisory Board, iCivics has created a Students Power Elections Guide to help students learn about voting and elections independently. Once students have built knowledge with the guide, they can explore ways to engage with the elections — whether that’s through volunteering for a campaign, making their voice heard to candidates, or even just talking with family members and friends about the issues they care about most.
  • iCivics has published a Students Power Elections resource that provides thorough and engaging explanations of voting and participation in the election season. The resource is broken up by topic and guides students to research elections in their state and ways to get involved in movements and ideas they are passionate about.

Historical Context to Understand Elections

Impact of COVID-19 on Elections

Resources to Understand the Illinois Graduated Income Tax Amendment